Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Clubbing, Chess Style

Last year, my older boys got very into chess. They played every day, competed at tournaments, won a few trophies. Like I said, they were very into chess.

I took away two main things from this.

First, chess parents are crazy. Just go watch "Finding Bobby Fischer" to know how crazy. I was shocked by the intensity that popped up at our small, local Iowa tournaments.

Second, I knew I needed to encourage my boys' love of chess. It has helped Monkey focus and sit still for a few minutes at a time. It has helped Bug be more confident. Neither of my boys have shown any interest in competitive sports, so having them learn sportsmanship through chess was a good thing.

Most of the schools in our area have chess clubs. Our elementary school was the exception.

When decided how serious I was about encouraging my children to continue to play chess, I decided I was pretty serious. Not hire a private chess tutor and force them to give up everything else to play chess serious, just pretty serious.

So now, apparently, I run our elementary school chess club.

Sometimes I wasn't exactly sure why I decided I didn't have enough to do, that my schedules weren't busy enough, or that I was remotely qualified to do this.

I especially started questioning my credentials (which consist of somewhat knowing the rules and enjoying watching my kids play) when several parents asked if they could come to chess club and learn how to play as well.

The first week of chess club, about 15 students showed up. The second week, 25 students showed up.  That's 25 kindergarten through 6th graders, just finishing a school day. It's just as chaotic and loud as you might imagine.

Luckily, there are been wonderful parent volunteers. Between all of us, we are able to get the kids to listen to a brief chess lesson, then pair up and play.

I questioned my sanity when I first started. Now, all I'm questioning is why I didn't do this a long time ago.

I love chess club.

The one hour a week is not overwhelming. I'm meeting parents and students and actually, finally, getting involved.

It's fun to watch the students learn chess and to learn it right along with them (since I read up on my chess lessons in the few hours before we meet.)

This winter, my boys and I will be back to sitting in middle school cafeterias, participating in chess tournaments. This year, we're hoping to be joined by a few of our friends.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


We have a small, itsy-bitsy tendency to go overboard with our Halloween pumpkins.

I thought about scaling back my pumpkin carving this year, but felt that it would be a cop out. There were expectations, dang it. With everything on his plate, Hubster also thought about keeping it simple. Then I reminded him that there are people counting on this, and we must give the people what they want.

And by people, I just mean us.

This is our Halloween tradition: pick pumpkins, decide on overly complicated design for said pumpkin and then stay up into the wee hours of the morning carving said design.  It's a little ridiculous, but wow, we love the outcome.

It's getting more fun, because the boys are actually able to do a little of the carving themselves. Monkey even transferred his own design onto his pumpkin by himself. He would have carved it himself as well, but watching him handle a knife made me nervous. Bug transferred and carved most of his design. Since Hubster was the one that usually finishes their pumpkins, he's grateful they are doing more (and that I'm more willing to let them handle sharp objects.)

Our pumpkins give a glimpse of current family interests. Video games, movies, books, and other pop culture make up the most of our designs. Each year, as the only girl, I feel that I must stake out some feminine territory. I was going to do a Little Mermaid pumpkin, but I was informed that this wasn't at all scary or Halloween related. But apparently Pokemon is fair game.

We let Duck choose between between Mater and Curious George - mostly he cried, because the black and white stencils scared him. Curious George looked a little easier, so he won.

Monkey knew he was going to do a Pokemon related pumpkin since July. I honestly thought Pokemon was a thing of the 90s, but apparently it's still a big deal.

Bug spent several hours debating on a good Doctor Who design, and then at the last minute switched to Calvin and Hobbes. 

I've done a Malificent pumpkin before, but after my Ariel idea was shot down by an 8 year old, I decided to do another one. At least it's still a Disney female.

Hubster had been debating between several different ideas, but once he saw this Breaking Bad stencil, it was settled. There aren't many things scarier than Walter White.

We know this won't last. We'll be lucky if they are recognizable by Halloween. But that just clears the way for even better ones next year.

(See previous year's pumpkins here: 2005-2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Quintessential Fall

I often think that I hate fall. Just full on loathe it, because it represents the end of my beloved summer and the approach of despicable winter. I spend a lot of time thinking about how much I'm going to hate fall each year.

And then fall happens, and I love it. 

I love the colors and the sweater wearing and the soup eating.

I love the fall activities. It can absolutely not be fully fall without the mandatory fall activities.

Each fall, we must go apple picking.

We have a lovely local apple orchard we visit each year. We take a tractor ride across the creek and fill buckets with lovely red and yellow streaked Honey crisp apples. The buckets fill up quickly and we find ourselves heading home with 40 pounds of apples. These are all eaten in about a week. 

Each fall, we must go for an autumn hike.

This year, our first hike was along the Cedar River, with its beautiful cliffs on one side and wide flat shore on the other. The narrow trails winds through the forests full of just changing leaves, taking us to scenic outlooks, me just barely keeping up with my wild boys.

Each fall, we must pick pumpkins.

We've been to several pumpkin patches in the area, but usually, we find ourselves back at the orchard where we pick apples, because it's beautiful and simple. No entrance fees, few crowds, just lovely scenery and good pumpkins. Each year, the boys want to buy bigger and bigger pumpkins that we are then required to carry up the hill to be weighed.  This year, we were prepared with a wagon, only to find that the boys had still outdone themselves and the pumpkins didn't fit. 

The pumpkins are now carved and settled onto the front porch.

Each fall, we must play in the leaves.

It seems that jumping into a leaf pile is a fairly small activity. But this has become an annual highlight for my children. Everyone pitches in to rake the biggest leaf pile they can, being careful to position the pile close to the backyard swing. After all the raking is done, everyone takes turn jumping in the pile. Not just little jumps, but full on run as fast as you can, and then flip or belly flop into the leaves. Swing as high as you can and then sail off into the leaves. We play in the leaves until there isn't much of a pile left.

Each fall, I'm sad to say good-bye to summer. But I'll make the best off it, eating apples, carving pumpkins, and picking leaves out of my hair.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

10K Accomplished

This weekend, I accomplished another one of my running goals and completed my first 10K. 

Granted, I generally plodded along and had to walk up the hill that was present at mile 5. But I finished, with an official chip time of 1:07:28.

It's not fast, but I'm proud of that time. A 10K isn't super long, but I'm proud of the distance. Last summer, when I first started running, I didn't think there was any way I would make it to this point. After all, last summer, when I started the Couch-to-5K program, I could barely run for a minute at a time.

I've run a few 5Ks in the last year and thoroughly enjoyed them. Not once during a 5K did I ever think that it was hard. This weekend, when I hit mile 5, with 1.2 miles to go, and most of that uphill, I felt that it was hard, in a "I'm not going to finish, I need to stop and throw up on the side of the road" hard.

But I finished, I kept going, I didn't throw up. Maybe this sounds cheesy or silly, but the people lining the course, who called out words of encouragement and motivation, helped so much. Having people call out "Way to stay strong!" and "You've got this!" helped me continue to run when really I just wanted to stop.

During the last year of running, I've had moments where I've become very discouraged. I haven't lost any weight. I haven't become significantly faster; it's rare that I run a mile under 11 minutes, and only once have I done a sub 10 minute mile. My distance has been slow to improve. Last year, I thought for sure I would run a marathon some day. Now even a half marathon feels undoable.

I know that I shouldn't let things like that discourage me. The number on the scale shouldn't be important. The only one I should compare myself to is my old self. And I do feel healthier. I have more energy. I'm better at keeping up with my boys. My resting heart rate is now in the 50s. All signs that I have become healthier. But it would be nice to have more to show from all the 5 am runs.

Finished a 10K is the first thing in a while that has felt like real progress, even with my pace being right at that 11 minute mile. Even with the fact that I can't feel my legs today.

I'm not sure what the next step is from here. Another 10K, but try to improve my time? A half marathon? I haven't decided. The one thing I know is that I'll keep going. I'll keep waking up in the dark mornings to run on my treadmill. I'll keep bundling up both myself and Duck up and run with the jogging stroller. 

I'll just keep running.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

In Celebration of My Husband

Hubster turned 39 this month.

He may, or most likely may not, appreciate me sharing that.

I scrolled back through my blog to see what I had written on his last birthdays, only to find that it has been years since I've written Hubster a birthday blog post (I'm sure he's completely upset about this.)

If there is a person who deserves more recognition, I feel it's my husband. After all, anyone who has put up with me for all these years deserves something, right (and all he gets is this lousy post.)

This last year has pushed him more than we could have anticipated. Between the increased work load at dental school, and the increasing demands of our children, and the changes at my work, to say that the last year as been difficult would be an understatement.

Happy Birthday to the man who makes breakfast for three very picky eaters every school morning, made all the more difficult by those breakfasts needing to be gluten free.

Happpy Birthday to the man who gets those three kids dressed, ready for school, and out the door each day, by himself, since I leave to work sometimes hours before they are up.

Happy Birthday to the man who takes care of all the bills without ever complaining about it or often even mentioning, so that I have one less thing to worry about.

Happy Birthday to the man who always makes sure I have gas in my car, because I often forget.

Happy Birthday to the man who lets me watch cooking shows and dramas with men in kilts, even where there are sports on the other channel. Sometimes.

Happy Birthday to the man who is willing to smell the questionable gallon of milk and the tub of leftover casserole.

Happy Birthday to the man who gets up with the crying baby during the night, even after long days of school.

Happy Birthday to the man who has picked up more slack and supported me in more ways than I'll probably ever know.

This was supposed to be a chance to celebrate my husband's birthday, but I guess really, it's a chance to say thank you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Field of Dreams

They had built it, so we figured it was finally time for us to come.

Iowa has just a few claims to fame as far as Hollywood goes. We have the Bridges of Madison County, the Field of Dreams, and Captain James T. Kirk will be born here in the future.

The Field of Dreams Movie Site is just over an hour from us. We had meant to go the first year we moved here. However, at that time, our children hadn't seen the movie and were too young to want to see the movie, so the trip got postponed.

It only took us five year to get around to it.

Now, everyone had seen the movie, even Monkey, who, the moment the credits came up, loudly announced that he didn't get it. 

I'm not big into baseball or Kevin Costner. Even so, it was hard to not absolutely love the Field of Dreams.

To get there, we drove through quintessential Iowa countryside, full of small densely wooded areas, wide curving rivers, soft hills, and corn fields. Always corn fields. 

The Field looks just like the movie. Down a long drive, a pristine baseball diamond with wooden bleachers, next to a white farm house, surrounded by corn fields. And it's free. Always a bonus.

Our boys tumbled out of the van, grabbed their baseball gear, and bolted to the field. They ran the bases a few times, then quickly made their way to playing, taking turns pitching and batting. They just as quickly realized they aren't quite up to pitching on a regulation sized field, as the distance from the pitching mound to home plate is a little daunting for young arms. 

Both Bug and Monkey had few successful hits after Hubster took over pitching (my pitches were all wild and I was promptly switched out.) 

Later, Bug and Hubster played catch in the lush green outfield. I supervised Monkey and Duck, who found the corn fields the most interesting part.  It could actually be quite easy to loose a 22 month old child in a corn field, but only if that child didn't have a piercing cry that ensures not only its parents, but anyone within a mile radius knows exactly where it is.

There was a small little souvenir shop next to the field, but the boys felt that the afternoon spent playing baseball on one of Hollywood's iconic fields was all they needed. Because it turns out, you don't have to really love baseball, or the movie to have had a wonderful time.  Even if you can't pitch.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Monkey is Eight

Dear Monkey,

You are suddenly so much taller, so much smarter, just so much older at age 8.  This last year, you have grown several inches, but you've grown so much more than just in height.

You want to be with your friends much more, jumping at every chance to be with them. You don't want to watch Disney movies with me anymore, preferring Pokemon and Merlin on Netflix. You don't really want to read with me at night anymore - at least that's what you say, until I find you snuggled next to me on the couch.

Despite all this new independence you're demonstrating, for your birthday this year, you asked for "just a nice party with my family."

So we had a dinner with just us. A Minecraft cake (that melted a little in our hot, end of summer kitchen.) A wagon full of gifts. Silly string fights in the back yard.

The next day, I let you play hokey from school and spend a whole day with just me. It felt like such a luxury for both of us. For you, a whole day where you didn't feel the need to compete for conversation with your older brother or protect all your things from your younger brother. For me, a whole day getting to enjoy this new, older you. 

We went ice skating, and had the entire rink to ourselves. We played tag and had races and were just silly.

We went out to lunch at the fancy restaurant you had requested and I let you order a caffeinated soda. We ate monster-sized burgers and stole french fries off each other's plates. 

It was a wonderful way to celebrate turning 8.

I had the time to realize that even though, with each blink of my eyes, you are older and new and different, you are actually still the same Monkey. Just now, 8 years. And I'm just as luck to be your mom now as I ever have been.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Writing again

At first, I just hadn't blogged in a few days. I meant to write about Monkey's birthday at the end of August, but ended up working late that day. I thought that I would write about it that weekend, but some home projects popped up that had to be attended to.

I would think that I was going to sit down and write each day, and then suddenly, it was half way through September and I had no idea where the time had gone. But I still felt that I wasn't that far behind on things and could easily catch up.

Then yesterday, my mother called me about early ordering things for Christmas and my boys asked when we were going to get their Halloween costumes. That's when it hit me how far behind things I had fallen.

In my mind, I'm still at the end of August, summer is just wrapping up, we've just started back to school, the holidays are not breathing down my neck, and I've got plenty of time to do everything. In reality, it's been almost two months since I've written anything, winter is fast approaching, and I'm behind in everything.

I find myself each night at 10 pm, still rushing between dirty dishes, getting the crock pot set up for the next day's dinner, and piles of laundry. My have-to-do list overwhelms my every day and I never get to move on to my want-to-do list, which is where blogging is.

I often wonder how I became so busy. I've tried to scale back on things. I'm not taking on big projects, I'm working less. But each day seems to hold fewer hours. All the time I had to sit and write before, I have no idea where that time has gone.

I know it's an illusion to think that everyone else has their lives pulled together and is staying on top of things and that I'm the only person floundering under the pressures of every day. That perfect person is a fantasy I've created from my guilt of not being able to do a better job. But when I'm picking up my children from school while sporting wet hair, yoga pants and a Disney t-shirt that I had to smell before deciding I could wear them, and I realize that Duck ended up wearing pajamas to daycare and Monkey with wearing plaid shorts and a striped t-shirt and it's 40 degrees outside and he doesn't have a jacket and his shirt is backwards, and I'm planning on microwaving leftovers for dinner and serving them on paper plates...on those days, the parents who are wearing real clothes look like they have their lives all figured out.

A year ago, when I graduated from residency, I was so sure that everything was going to be so easy and simple and I would have oodles of time, so much time I wouldn't know what to do with it.  All that time was also a pure fantasy. I work full time and have three children, one of which won't stop biting the cats. That time I thought I would have for Netflix marathons and naps just was never going to exist.

Although, in full disclosure, I have been reading novels. I haven't read novels since 2009. It's been wonderful to read again.

I'm reaching the conclusion that I may never have a pulled together look or free time to rearrange my tubberware drawer. But what I do have are free weekends and happy children to spend them with and a great deal of wonderful memories.

I'm going to get back to documenting those, all our family celebrations, our Midwest adventures, and my ongoing tumble of thoughts.